sábado, 21 de julio de 2018

Requiem: A Hallucination

Requiem: A Hallucination [Requiem: uma alucinação] (New Directions, 2002)
by Antonio Tabucchi [translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa]
Italy, 1991

A lovely, truly lovely morsel for Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 readers courtesy of "the most Portuguese" of all Italian writers.  During the course of a hot Sunday afternoon and evening in Lisbon, an Antonio Tabucchi-like narrator whiles away the time waiting to meet up with a Fernando Pessoa-like poet sometime around the stroke of midnight.  As in a dream, the narrator crosses paths with both the living and the dead--family members, old friends, total strangers, perhaps people he only knows through books--looking for answers that have long avoided him or perplexed him in "reality."  "I didn't choose to appear in this room, it was your will that called me here, because it was you who wanted me in your dream, and now I only have time to say goodbye, goodbye my son, the maid is just about to knock on the door, I have to leave" the sleeping narrator is told in one moment (52).  "I've never been here before, and the person who's coming here belongs only in my memory" the narrator later tells the manager of a private club about the guest he expects to arrive and join him (82).  "There's nothing wrong with that, he said, you'll feel perfectly at home here, this club is nothing but a memory, now."  Extraordinarily soulful, endearingly playful from time to time, not at all disquieting in its evocations of evanescence.

Antonio Tabucchi (1943-2012)

jueves, 19 de julio de 2018

Inquietudes sentimentales

Inquietudes sentimentales (Alquimia Ediciones, 2016)
by Thérèse Wilms Montt
Argentina, 1917

The young Thérèse (later Teresa) Wilms Montt's first chapbook, the angsty and occasionally preternaturally macabre Inquietudes sentimentales [Sentimental Concerns], was once blandly described by its author as a work which "habla de la sociedad chilena" ["speaks about Chilean society"] or some such pedestrian mumbo jumbo.  Whether that explanation was intentionally vague or exactly the sort of revenge-minded, gloved backhand to her recently abandoned home country that you'd expect from an aristocrat turned bohemian who'd had to flee the convent where she'd been locked up by an abusive husband, voilà the poem in prose debut of a singular and apparently singularly unhappy talent.  I confess that I love Wilms Montt's imagery even though I'm not quite sure what to make of the content of her work in some ways.  Are these 50 short pieces autobiographical?  More concerned with the aesthetic end of things?  Do such questions even matter?  Whatever, the Baudelairean spleen does seem heartfelt (is that the word?) enough here & for every mopey love poem that threatens to put me to sleep, Wilms Montt more often than not offers up a non-narcotic antidote in the form of a memorable image--"un corazón partido sobre un plato de Sèvres" ["a broken heart on a Sèvres platter"] (13); a menacing start to a poem--"El silencio ha estrangulado la noche" ["Silence has strangled the night"] (19); or that uplifting bit about how the pealing of bells doesn't always signify the announcement of a festive occasion for, "tras de él suele venir el carro de los leprosos" ["after it, the lepers' cart often follows"] (14).

Teresa Wilms Montt (1893-1921)

Inquietudes sentimentales appears alongside Los tres cantos (1917), En la quietud de mármol (1918), and Anuarí (1918)--the three other collections Wilms Montt published in her lifetime--and the standalone poem Belzebuth (1919) in the handsome centennial edition of her Poesía reunida (Santiago de Chile: Alquimia Ediciones, 2016, pp. 9-35).

domingo, 15 de julio de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 7/8-7/14 Links

Alejandra Costamagna

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

John, The Modern Novel
Los fantasmas (Ghosts) by César Aira

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Ana Martins Marques (profile & bibliography)
what day knits night forgets (poems by Ana Martins Marques)
Alice Sant'Anna (profile & bibliography)
to embrace the whale (poems by Alice Sant'Anna)

Michael Kitto, Knowledge Lost
The Impostor by Javier Cercas

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Las muertas by Jorge Ibargüengoitia

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Op Oloop by Juan Filloy

sábado, 14 de julio de 2018

Las muertas

Las muertas (Joaquín Mortiz epub, 2018)
by Jorge Ibargüengoitia
Mexico, 1977

Las muertas [The Dead Girls], a selection from Ignacio Echevarría's list of the essential books in Spanish-language literature since the 1950s, was a fun introduction to the Mexican Ibargüengoitia for me even if it struck me as maybe more a four-star rather than a five-star caliber read if truth be told--the pulp awesomosity of that cover notwithstanding.  Wait, did I just say "fun"?  Loosely based on an appalling Mexican true crime story in which a family of four brothel-owning sisters engaged in a decades-long orgy of white slavery, serial killing and body dumping on a scale that beggars the imagination, Ibargüengoitia's fictionalization of the events mercifully shapeshifts into something of an arch genre novel chronicling a similar case with a much lower body count.  The text's humor (a whorehouse named México Lindo; a drug dealer whose distinctive indigenous facial features earn him a description as "una especie de Benito Juárez del hampa" ["a sort of gangland Benito Juárez"]), a quasi-police report style ably incorporating a range of narrative points of view, and its breezy tone all make Las muertas go down smooth from an entertainment standpoint, but one of the things that makes me suspect I might be underrating it as mere dark satire is something that's missing as time goes on just as clearly as the titular dead girls: an authorial POV.  As Mauro Libertella notes in his review for Clarín, Ibargüengoitia's narrator here is one who only relates events, who doesn't doesn't pass judgement on the crimes themselves, "como si la historia se contara sola y se explicara a sí misma, porque finalmente no hay nada más díficil de explicar que la violencia extrema" ["as if the story were told by itself and was self-explanatory because, in the end, there's nothing more difficult to explain than extreme violence"].  Food for pinche thought.

Jorge Ibargüengoitia (1928-1983)

martes, 10 de julio de 2018

Teresa Wilms Montt, de tumba en tumba

"Teresa Wilms Montt, de tumba en tumba"
by Alejandra Costamagna
Chile, 2011

"Teresa Wilms Montt, de tumba en tumba" ["Teresa Wilms Montt, from Tomb to Tomb"] is a gloomy, doom-perfumed biographical sketch of the Chilean poétesse maudite (1893-1921, above) who wowed then mostly all-male literary salons in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Paris before ending her life in the company of a flask full of Veronal.  While she walked the earth, she espoused sepulchral raisons d'être such as the following--"Soñar, sin parar, encerrada entre las paredes de mármol, lisas y limpias, de una tumba" ["Endlessly dreaming, shut inside the marble walls, clean and smooth, of a tomb"] (46)--and spent time among the gravestones in Buenos Aires' stately Recoleta Cementery penning diary entry-like notes to the rejected lover who had slit his wrists in front of her: "De la vida a tu tumba, de tu tumba a la vida, ése es mi destino" ["From life to your tomb, from your tomb to life, that is my fate"] (60).  Although, as with fellow suicide Gérard de Nerval's pages, it may be tough to suss out where the boundaries between the autobiographical and the artistic dissolve in Wilms Montt's slender body of work, essayist Alejandra Costamagna makes me want to learn more--much more actually--with the literarily come-hither comment that "la escritura de Teresa Wilms Montt es el coro de su leyenda" ["Teresa Wilms Montt's writing is the chorus to her legend"] (49).  In other words, more Wilms Montt in my future.

Alejandra Costamagna

"Teresa Wilms Montt, de tumba en tumba" is the second of seventeen sketches to appear in the Leila Guerriero-curated Los malditos (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2011, 45-64).  Readers of Spanish can enjoy what seems to be a complete version of Costamagna's essay here.

domingo, 8 de julio de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018


With apologies for my way belated announcement of this, I'm happy to note that Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog  and I are once again hosting our annual summer reading event this time under the rather unwieldy moniker of Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 (equally unwieldy Twitter hashtag: #Spanishandportugueselitmonths).  The invitation to the shindig is open to all, and participation is as easy as reading one or more works originally written in Spanish or Portuguese and letting me or Stu know about your July and August reviews by the end of the latter month.  As in previous years, Basque, Catalan, and Galician works will also count for participation purposes as Spanish and Portuguese "friendlies," and those of you who don't blog about books but still want to talk about them are naturally encouraged to join in on the discussion fun on participating blogs, on Twitter, or wherever you care to indulge in your book talk.  To that end, I'll be compiling an ongoing list of confirmed Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 readers below along with a round-up of last week's links to reviews below the first below, ahem, below.  Cheers!

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 Readers
Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Emma, Book Around the Corner
Ina Cawl, Somali Bookaholic
JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
John, The Modern Novel
Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts 
Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Michael Kitto, Knowledge Lost
Pat, South of Paris Books

7/1-7/7 Links
David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
The Blind Spot by Javier Cercas

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
La hora azul by Alonso Cueto

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Skylight by José Saramago
The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

martes, 3 de julio de 2018

La hora azul

La hora azul (Anagrama, 2010)
by Alonso Cueto
Peru, 2005

Adrián Ormache, the pseudonymous narrator of the intense but relatively no-frills/memoir-like La hora azul [The Blue Hour], is a well off Lima lawyer who undergoes a major midlife crisis of sorts when he learns a terrible family secret after the death of his parents: his father, a high-ranking military officer during the government's war with Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path], not only tortured terrorists and alleged terrorists alike during his time in rebellious Ayacucho but also kept a local teenager hostage as a sex slave before she managed to escape her foreordained execution.  The younger Ormache's search for understanding of his father's actions and his more and more obsessive quest to meet the woman who got away lead him on a cross-country trek through some of the moral and geographical bloodlands of recent Peruvian history even as the character's day to day experiences in class-conscious Lima prove that coming to grips with the social and economic roots of those horrors years later is akin to picking at a guilt-ridden scab.  In less subtle/more highly strung hands, La hora azul could have done a real disservice to its traumatic subject matter.  Fortunately, even a less than convincing love story was only a minor distraction in a sobering novel which seems to suggest that suffering the venom of everyday prejudice--e.g. Ormache's wife's snide complaint that he would deign to have an affair with "una india cualquiera" ["some random Indian woman"]--is the only solace that many poor and dark-skinned Peruvians could hope to expect for surviving being stuck in the middle between Sendero and the soldados during the time of the atrocities.  Unsettling.

Alonso Cueto

I read La hora azul with Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 in mind, an annual event now taking place with Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog and others throughout July and August.  Stu first brought Cueto's The Blue Hour to my attention back in 2012 here, a shame it took me six whole years to follow his lead.